“How do we hold the community together in difficult times?” This remains a pressing question for school leaders. During NAES’s recent Jonathan T. Glass Institute for New Heads, Kirsten Adams, head of St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School in Alexandria, Virginia offered her thoughts as an Episcopal school leader.
She began by reminding us that the history and principles of Anglicanism and the Episcopal Church illuminate a path forward.
During her long reign, Elizabeth I was confronted with profound religious divides both inside and outside of her kingdom as well as fundamental challenges to her legitimacy. With secular and religious movements tearing apart England’s social fabric and potentially ending her rule if not her kingdom, Elizabeth chose a middle way. The Elizabethan concept of unity rather than agreement remains very much alive in the Church of England and in today’s Episcopal Church. This notion of unity even in disagreement gives us permission, if not a mandate, to tolerate ambiguity and conflict while remaining in communion with one another.
This does not mean that we step away from who we are, what we stand for, and what we believe. Rather, it allows to continue to see one another as children of God even in the hardest moments.
Kirsten went on to remind us that “our job is to show grace and mercy” – as leaders and as communities – and ended with a verse from Ephesians which asks us to “speak the truth in love.”
I was struck by the power that these convictions and sacred words have to counteract those all-to-human impulses to demonize one another until we become not “us” but “them.” I was struck by the opportunity we have in our schools to do the hard work – to stay in relationship and dialogue with one another with grace, mercy, and love.